Proposals to increase the use of electronic tags for offenders, and reduce the periods for which prior convictions must be disclosed, have been supported by MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee.
However the committee, in its stage 1 report on the Management of Offenders (Scotland) Bill, warns that robust risk-assessment, proactive monitoring, and effective enforcement measures against breaches must all be in place and properly funded before the new electronic monitoring regime is rolled out.
Equally important is the provision of resources to help a person find employment, accommodation, access the NHS and other public services on release from prison on a tag.
Other changes made by the bill include altering the makeup of the Parole Board for Scotland, and introducing tags that can monitor levels of alcohol or drugs in an individual’s system, as well as pinpoint their location more accurately than before.
The committee delayed completion of its scrutiny of the bill to allow time to consider the failures highlighted by the murder in Paisley of Craig McClelland, whose killer had breached his home detention curfew at the time of the crime. His case was reviewed by HM Inspectorates of Prisons and Constabulary in Scotland (HMIPS and HMICS), and the Scottish Government has indicated that it agrees with all the recommendations made. The committee will continue to press the Government to ensure that these are fully implemented, to minimise the risk of a similar event occurring in the future.
Committee convener Margaret Mitchell MSP commented on the report: "This legislation is intended to cut reoffending rates in Scotland, and help people who have committed offences reintegrate into the community. These are worthy objectives which the committee supports.
"During scrutiny of the bill, members worked assiduously, seeking assurances that the right balance has been found between helping those with prior convictions to change their ways, whilst ensuring that public safety remains paramount.
"The committee is backing the overall aims of the bill, and fully supports changes to the rules around disclosing prior convictions. This is an important step towards helping people with convictions find gainful employment and be rehabilitated into society."
She added: "However, the various measures in the bill must be properly resourced, including monitoring and enforcement provisions. And whilst the committee agrees in principle to greater use of electronic monitoring, it looks forward to working with the Scottish Government to strengthen the bill. This will involve ensuring improvements are made before any changes come into force, particularly around dealing swiftly and effectively with tagging breaches, and minimising risk."